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2012 Budget Speech by Leader of the Opposition Cllr Hazel Watson

February 7, 2012 1:37 PM
Originally published by Surrey County Council Lib Dems

Cty Cllr Hazel WatsonI request a recorded vote on the administration's budget for 2012/13.

I will be voting against the administration's Budget, because an almost 3% increase in Council Tax is excessive. It is time for all County Councillors to stand up and be counted and to vote against the Budget.

While there is no escaping that to protect services over the coming years there has to be an increase in Council Tax. The administration's plans are in excess of what is required to balance the books and are an unnecessary burden on Surrey's council tax payers in the recession.

The legacy of years of the administration, by their own admission, failing Surrey's residents means that there is almost no choice but to increase Council Tax.

The administration states in its own Corporate Strategy, being discussed today, that they failed Surrey residents for years. Surrey Council Taxpayers are still paying for that failure.

The Corporate Strategy states: " In 2008 Surrey County Council was failing Surrey residents. Key essential services were not being delivered effectively: some were close to failure. Our costs were spiralling out of control: our projected spending over the years 2009 to 2013 was over £200 million more than the income we would have. We had little credibility with key partners. We had not invested as well as we should have in the skill and training of staff and the equipment that they had to work with."

I agree with that statement. Millions of pounds of money were frittered away on such things as excessive reliance on consultants instead of spending it on frontline services needed by Surrey residents.

I do not support the content of the administration's Budget because it cuts services to a greater extent than overheads and the back office. This is the wrong balance of priorities. Services for the benefit of Surrey residents should be protected and administrative functions should be cut first.

I support the additional money for Surrey's highways maintenance and Youth Projects that are in the Budget.

In addition, I would end the unpopular and ill-conceived proposals for libraries to be run by volunteers, reverse the penny pinching change of bus passes back to start at 9am from 9.30am and increase funding for road resurfacing. I would also increase funding for voluntary organisations that provide vital services to Surrey residents.

The 0.49% additional Council Tax being proposed by the administration amounts to £2.7 million of revenue funding.

I propose to reverse the Community Library plans costing £200,000. Reverting concessionary bus passes to a 9am start, costing £350,000, and not implementing £100,000 of administration cuts to voluntary organisations.

These proposals total £3.35million.

I propose that the funding for these proposals is taken from £1million from the Communications budget out of an excessive £2million budget. £1million from Agency staff out of a total of £12million. £1million from expenditure on consultants out of a total of £5million, and by bringing forward an £800,000 saving from the Chief Executive's Office reorganisation proposed for 2015/16, totalling £3.8million which is £450,000 in excess of the savings required to balance the books.

I would also abandon the administration's expensive legal battle against Surrey residents in the High Court in order pursue its ill-conceived plans to replace professional library staff with volunteers in 10 of the County's libraries.

In order to fund the £2million of capital or one off schemes in paragraph 50 of the Budget I would use the two new reserves totalling £7.6 million. I believe that these two new reserves are unnecessary, given that the County Council has total reserves of £112million of which £81.9 million are earmarked and £30 million are available balances. This leaves £5.6 million of these two new reserves that I propose are used for road resurfacing capital expenditure.

The additional £5.6 million I propose to spend on road resurfacing would be a step towards addressing the massive £400 million backlog of roads maintenance in the County which the administration's Budget has inadequately addressed. In fact the additional £2million proposed by the administration in their Budget is a mere drop of tarmac in a sea of Surrey potholes.

All in all, the administration's Budget places an excessive burden on Surrey Council Taxpayers, does not provide the services that Surrey residents want and need. Instead it piles up money in the bank that would be better spent resurfacing Surrey's potholed roads.

I urge councillors to vote against the administration's Budget.